10 Facts You Need To Know About Migraine

Migraines knock you down and keep you down sometimes for several days or more. But strangely we don’t really know that much about them. The World Health Organisation says that migraines are globally under-diagnosed, under-treated and poorly managed. (3)

Ok, so we don’t manage our headaches very well. But who can blame us?

How are we supposed to get all the information or resources we need from our GP, MD or Doctor in a brief consultation? A recent study showed an average encounter lasted just 11 minutes for chronic migraineurs! (10)  

Half the problem is getting the right facts on migraines. Which is not easy when there are so many different theories about how and why migraines occur.

To help give you the facts here are your must-know top 10 migraine facts to help you improve your migraine condition.

10 Must-know migraine facts

1) Nobody knows for sure exactly what causes a migraine

Most scientists acknowledge that there is a genetic link between migraines i.e. if one of your parents or grandparents suffered migraines, you are more likely to get them. But we don’t know exactly how migraines work and why they occur - the pathology of the condition. (1)

Anyone who claims otherwise is speculating, misleading or wrong.

2) There is no universal cure for a migraine...yet

This doesn’t mean it's impossible to stop getting migraines.

This does happen.

There are people I’ve met who stop eating a certain food for example and experience a dramatic improvement in their migraine condition or complete relief from migraines. But a clinical cure that works for everyone to stop migraines from ever occurring again does not exist (2) ….

When it is invented, I will be the first to let you know!

3) 50% of migraine sufferers don’t know they get them

This estimate is consistently made by migraine organisations around the world. (3)

More than half the people who get migraines, don’t know they get them.  

My migraines are almost always accompanied by a disruptive visual aura.

For others who may not have such obvious symptoms it may be more difficult to differentiate between a severe headache and migraine. More than half have not been to a medical professional for a proper diagnoses.

This means that there are still a majority of migraine sufferers self treating or believing they are experiencing sinus problems or regular headaches. 

4) There are 3 relatively simple criteria you use to check if you have migraines or not

If you’re not sure whether you’re getting migraines or not, then this is important. This is the International Headache Society4 criteria for headache classification:

a.  You need at least 2 of the following:

  • moderate to severe pain
  • one sided in the head
  • pulsing/throbbing headache
  • made worse by movement

b.  If there is at least one of the following:

  • nausea or vomiting
  • sensitivity to light and sound

c.  If it lasts 4-72 hrs if you don’t treat it.

If you meet this criteria then there is a good chance you have migraines, but always check with your GP as you want to rule out any other potentially more serious conditions or complications.

5) 1000 mg of Aspirin provides relief for 50% of migraine sufferers

Clinical studies show that the max dose of aspirin 1000mg provides relief for around 50% of migraine sufferers.

An expert committee to the World Health Organisation (5) recommend aspirin as the first option for migraine patients.

6) Migraines are around 3x as common in women than in men

There is no sex equality when it comes to migraines. Why more women than men? It is thought that hormonal changes during menstruation are a significant trigger for many women. (6)

Menstruation is not a factor for men.

7) Migraines are most common between 35-45 years old

Across the population of migraine sufferers, migraines become more frequent until the ages of 35 to 45. (7) After this point they begin to decline. 

The World Health Organisation revealed in a report (3) that migraines are under diagnosed, under treated and poorly managed. Perhaps it is not surprising then, that many people are forced to wait until the migraines eventually burn themselves out to see improvements.

8) Medication over-use is a problem for migraine sufferers

Medication overuse occurs when you are taking medicine too often for your headaches or migraines. It is also referred to as a medication-induced headache or rebound headache. It is not pleasant and there is no easy way out.  If you are taking anti-inflammatory painkillers for 15 or more days a month you are at risk. If you are taking stronger drugs like Triptans for 10 days or more a month then you are also at risk. (8)

Watch out for this as it can lead to chronic daily headaches and in severe cases, daily migraines. 

9) Stress is one of the most common migraine triggers

Migraine triggers are factors which contribute towards a migraine attack. One of the most common of these is stress. (9) But stress may not just be from a busy day at work. It could be the stress of running late to dinner, anxiety about an upcoming event, strong emotions or just too much happening all at once.

10) Migraines can be managed

Migraines respond to effective treatment plans that address behavioural and lifestyle triggers and well as underlying causes and treatments to minimise the frequency and duration of attacks. A complete migraine plan that covers these areas gives you a much better chance of controlling and reducing your attacks.

These 10 facts are just the tip of the iceberg, but they are a start to understanding your condition. Any other tips you have for others out there?

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1) Robbins MS, Lipton RB. The epidemiology of primary headache disorders. April 2010.
2) Gilmore B, Michael M. Treatment of acute migraine headache. American Family Physician. Feb, 2011.
3) World Health Organisation & Lifting the Burden. ATLAS of Headache Disorders And Resources in the World 2011.
4) International Headache Society ICHD – II:Diagnostic criteria for Migraine.
5) World Health Organisation, 17th Expert Committee on the Selection and Use of Essential Medicines. Geneva, Mar 2009.
6) Alexander, L. Migraine – ‘A Common And Distressing Disorder’. headacheaustralia.org.au/headache-types/17-migraine-a-common-and-distressing-disorder.
7)Bartleson JD, Cutrer FM. Migraine update. Diagnosis and treatment. Minn Med. May 2010.
8) Kenny, T. Medication Overuse Headache.http://www.patient.co.uk/health/medication-overuse-headache. Nov, 2012.
9) MAYO Clinic. Migraine Causes. http://www.mayoclinic.com/health/migraine-headache/DS00120/DSECTION=causes. Accessed July 2013.
10) Lipton, R., et al. "Communication patterns in physician and chronic migraine patient dialogues during routine office visits." CEPHALALGIA. Vol. 35. 1 OLIVERS YARD, 55 CITY ROAD, LONDON EC1Y 1SP, ENGLAND: SAGE PUBLICATIONS LTD, 2015.